Agenda item

Updates from Ipswich Borough Council and Other Public Sector Organisations

Minutes:

6.1          The Chair invited Inspector Soraya Francis of the Ipswich East Safer Neighbourhood Team (SNT) to provide an update on policing priorities.

6.2          Inspector Francis reported that there had been an increase in burglaries from outbuildings and commercial properties.  There had also been an increase in drug dealing intelligence, often as a result of the public reporting Coronavirus related offences.  Additional resource was consequently allocated to target ‘cuckoo’ addresses, where the premises of vulnerable people have been taken over by drug dealers, resulting in a conviction being secured, which was now waiting to go to court.  Three burglars had also been prosecuted for theft from commercial buildings earlier in the year.

6.3          There had been some changes to shift patterns for the SNT due to some Officers shielding due to the Coronavirus.  Priorities were being considered for Ipswich East, Felixstowe and Woodbridge for when the pandemic restrictions start to be lifted.

6.4          The Chair invited County Councillor Paul West, Cabinet member for Ipswich, to provide an update on behalf of Suffolk County Council (SCC).

6.5          Councillor West reported that Family Support Practitioners were still working with young people, with those at high risk being seen on a face-to-face basis whilst observing social distancing, and those at a lesser risk being contacted through a variety of means, such as WhatsApp, text messaging and other social media platforms.  Despite the current restrictions, work was continuing in partnership with the Police, Social Care and the Probation Service, and the Diversion Programme was still accepting referrals from parents and organisations working with young people.

6.6          Suffolk Libraries have announced that branches would be reopening from 6 July 2020 in accordance with social distancing guidelines and plans on how to achieve this would be announced over the next few weeks.  The SCC facility at Murrayside would remain closed for now, but SCC were planning how to safely reopen this facility in the future.

6.7          Temporary road closures had been announced in the Press, for example Upper Brook Street, which had been implemented at short notice under emergency powers in order to make it easier for cyclists and pedestrians to get about whilst observing social distancing.  The relevant SCC Councillors were consulted in relation the 3 temporary road closures and were in support of the proposals.

6.8          Changes to SCC services as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic were listed on the SCC website: www.suffolk.gov.uk.

6.9          Councillor Parry commented on the high mortality rate for Ipswich in comparison to other towns in the region, such as Norwich and Cambridge, and asked whether this had been analysed.
Councillor West reported that he had highlighted this issue, but it was too early to draw any conclusion.  However, he had asked whether deaths at Ipswich Hospital were being attributed to Ipswich or to wherever the person normally resided, and he confirmed that it was the latter.

6.10       Councillor Barber asked when SCC’s main office would be re-opened to allow face-to-face meetings with Officers.
Councillor West reported that plans were being progressed for the re-opening of Endeavour House bearing in mind the 2 metres social distancing requirement.  Capacity was currently reduced by over half for those Officers needing to work in the office; Officers who were able to work from home would continue to do so.  There was no date set for re-opening the building and any future plans would need to follow Government guidance; regular face-to-face meetings would only take place once the guidance was to encourage people to return to their regular workplace.

6.11       Councillor Barber asked about the SCC Pension Fund forecast that had been mentioned in the news.
Councillor West commented that in his view, bearing in mind how the financial markets had dropped over the past few months, the SCC Pension Fund forecast was not as bad as it could have been, and added that he would request further information from the Pension Fund Officer.

6.12       Councillor Connelly asked whether there were a lot of vulnerable young people no longer being seen since the school closures and asked if social care practitioners were still engaging with them and the schools.
Councillor West reported that, despite the restrictions in place, a dialogue was being maintained with vulnerable young people and school teachers were working hard to provide education via different methods.
Councillor Connelly added that whilst teachers were engaging with the majority of schoolchildren, through media such as Google Classroom, he was concerned about the smaller number of individuals that were not being engaged.

6.13       The Chair invited Russell Williams, Chief Executive, to provide an update on behalf of Ipswich Borough Council (IBC).

6.14       Mr Williams commented that it had been a challenging time for many, with some services busier than usual providing support to vulnerable people and businesses with the help of redeployed resource, and other services, such as Gainsborough Sports Centre, being closed for the past few months. 

6.15       Some services were now being restored, such as brown bin collections, which were now in their fourth week and after initial collections that were nearly triple in volume, were now back to normal levels.  Some of the Council-operated public toilets had re-opened, including those located by the kiosk in Holywells Park, with the Cleansing Team on site to clean facilities during the day.  Grafton House occupancy had been reduced from approximately 500 people down to 30 people to enable social distancing.  There were no current plans to increase occupancy, but some external development works had recommenced, such as refitting Council housing voids.

6.16       Throughout the pandemic, the Council had been providing support to Families in Need (FIND), based in Gainsborough, with the distribution of food parcels.

6.17       Councillor Barber acknowledged the hard work done by Council Officers and requested that her thanks be passed on; within her Portfolio, many Officers had been redeployed to support the Customer Service Centre and the ‘Home but not Alone’ phoneline.  Councillor Barber asked how services would be managed moving forward.
Mr Williams commented that he was proud of the amount of good work done by hundreds of people across the organisation.  The closing of services was relatively easy in terms of decision making as it was in accordance with Government guidelines; the challenge over the next few months would be how to restart services safely and manage expectations.  Parks Officers had been advising the public on what was permitted, but this was becoming more difficult. Sports centres would remain closed, but there could be other ways of providing a service moving forward.  There were financial implications for both the Council and the country as a whole in light of increased spending and loss of income; to date, the Government had provided £1.4million to IBC, but that only covered the financial shortfall in April.  Councillor Martin Cook would be taking the lead on addressing the financial challenges for the Council so that it would be in a sustainable position moving forward, and both IBC and SCC would continue to lobby the Government for support.

6.18       Councillor Harsant also thanked Officers of the Council for all their hard work in response to the Coronavirus pandemic. 
Mr Williams reported that Officers had appreciated the letter of support from the Mayor and the 3 Group Leaders thanking them for their contribution and added that he would reiterate this message in his next update to Officers.

6.19       Councillor Harsant asked what action would be taken in relation to the Tolly Cobbold brewery building, which despite being secured, was now falling into disrepair.
Mr Williams reported that the brewery was not owned by the Council and had always been in private ownership.  Discussions had been held with the current owner, both before and after the recent fire, and the security of the site had been improved.  Planning Officers had been working with the owner to advise on the works required to secure the site and make the building weathertight. However, with large holes in the roof of a 5-floor building that was in close proximity to a working port, it would not be easy or cheap to carry out these remedial works.  Unfortunately, the Council had very limited powers in what it could request to be done to the building.
Inspector Francis commented that a large derelict building could attract anti-social behaviour and added that she would provide some additional early evening patrols in this area.